Was it all worth it?
Cycling fans, the world over have asked this question about the recent UCI Road World Championship in Doha. When Qatar and more specifically Doha got the nod to host the Worlds it was met with scepticism and apprehension from those in the cycling community.
After all, this is Qatar, the embodiment of wealth in the world today. A country who in 2010 were listed as the richest country in the world by Forbes magazine. But this also Qatar who allows workers to live in squalid and dangerous conditions while they bust a gut to help get the country ready for the 2022 World Cup.
So why did the UCI allow Doha to host what is the second most important event in the cycling calendar, the World Championships?
Because, let’s be honest, despite what the UCI say about cycling ‘being probably the fastest growing sport’ in the country; there was no evidence of this when Peter Sagan superbly rode to successive Rainbow Jersey victories on the 16th October. And throughout the week long festivities, Qatar looked quite the opposite of being a cycling enthused nation.
The spectators were non-existent, and for a country that has a modest population of 2.3 million you might have expected that, but if it’s one of the most ‘fastest growing’ sports in the country, why were Qatari natives so disillusioned with the event?
Matti Breschel who finished second in the men’s road race in Melbourne in 2010 voiced some concerns two years prior to the actual event taking place, saying “I think that all the locals don’t really give a s**t.” He was right. You would have been hard pressed to find a Qatari lining the route throughout the week.
Other nationalities were out in force. The Slovakian’s were there in numbers, the Norwegians came to support Alexander Kristoff, and of course the Belgians were there. When do they not take over a huge cycling event.
So again it all comes down to whether it was worth all the hassle to send riders to the middle of the desert for what was an event that should have held significance, not just for the riders, but for the fans as well.
It was the first time the Worlds were held in the middle-east, but whether cycling will be back remains to be seen. If the Worlds were held in Europe, like they will be in 2017, it would be a given that the route would be packed with spectators.
The racing might have been fast paced and exciting; but the empty galleries and lack of spectators must have been a cause for concern for the UCI and more importantly the chairman of the organising committee Khalid Bin Ali Al-Thani.
It’s nice to know it wasn’t just me who noticed the lack of crowds, the distinguished German rider Tony Martin who won the men’s individual time-trial echoed the lack of excitement generated by the locals, saying: “About the crowd, it would sure be nice to have some more fans here to celebrate with. The real celebrations will be when I get home.”
Qatar certainly hasn’t been short of hosting big sporting events in the past few years. In 2014 they hosted the short-track swimming World Championships. In 2015 they hosted the men’s World Handball Championships, and then this year the Cycling World Championship. But one common thread has run through the lot, and that is the lack of interest.
At the men’s handball Championship Qatar even resorted to paying the natives to attend the event that is the state of spectatorship in Qatar. There was no evidence that happened for the cycling a couple of weeks ago, but it might have happened for all we know.
It’s a problem that Qatar hasn’t seemed to grasp as of yet. But with the impending 2022 World Cup on the horizon, you would think they have time on their side.
Coming back to cycling; the UCI have made some questionable decisions over the years, but in the wider picture according to the UCI, allowing Qatar to host the Worlds wasn’t something they thought too much about, other than trying to capitalise on the booming Asian market.
After all the sport has more pressing issues at hand, the doping scandals that has and are continuing to plague the sport should, and rightly garner more attention from the governing body.
But from a fans perspective giving Qatar an event that is second only to the Tour de France on the cycling calendar was to me perplexing.
The UCI might have heralded it as a ‘first’ but if you look at the cold, hard facts it was an event that failed to live up to expectations, both in terms of the overall quality of the racing and the spectatorship.